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Tonga's Olympic flagbearer Pita Taufatofua raises over $400,000 for tsunami relief, says he still hasn't heard from father

Olympian raises money for Tonga
Pita Taufatofua, Tonga's shirtless Olympic flagbearer, raises more than $350,000 for tsunami relief 00:57

Pita Taufatofua, who gained fame as the shirtless Olympic flagbearer for Tonga, has raised hundreds of thousands dollars in relief for his home nation, days after a devastating volcanic blast triggered a tsunami. As of Thursday, donations have surpassed $400,000 (more than 550,000 Australian dollars). 

Taufatofua, 38, set up a GoFundMe page earlier this week to help the people of Tonga, where satellite images showed its islands smothered in grey ash or damaged by a tsunami after Saturday's volcano explosion. The fundraiser has been verified by CBS News.

"In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom," he wrote on the fundraising page. 

"In the coming days, weeks we will need your help," he added. "Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc." 

Communications have been down throughout Tonga since the eruption, according to the Associated Press. The Olympian also posted on his Instagram on Tuesday that he has not been in contact yet with his father, Dr. Pita Taufatofua, who is the governor of the Haapai province. CBS News reached out to Taufatofua for an update, but did immediately hear back. 

However, Taufatofua said some of family members on Haapai were reported to be safe. 

"Just received word that our family on the main island of Haapai is safe and that our Ha'apai home ' Fuino' is still standing! Its over 100 years old and has been through many cyclones and now a tsunami. I was told the waves came right through the home but the foundations held strong," he said. 

Tonga's government described the tsunami as "an unprecedented disaster" for the country. Officials said Tuesday it has confirmed three deaths, but cautioned the toll is expected to rise as more reports come in from outlying areas. The Consulate of the Kingdom of Tonga posted photos showing damage in the capital area.

Three of Tonga's smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said Wednesday. It is not clear yet what assistance Tonga needs from the international community, and further complicating matters is the concern over the possible spread of COVID-19. Tonga has effectively kept the virus outside its borders except for one case reported in a traveler from New Zealand in October. 

While his status for the Olympics in Beijing remains unclear, Taufatofua said on his GoFundMe page that he is training in Australia. He became the first person to compete in three straight Olympics (summer and winter) after taking up taekwondo in Rio de Janiero in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021, and participating in cross-country skiing in Pyeongchang in 2018. 

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